Hypertufa Pot: Ready For Action

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I began working with hypertufa to cast pots and stepping stones about a month ago.

Hypertufa is a mix of Portland Cement with other ingredients more commonly used in potting soil, to create a light but durable material with which one can cast pots, birdbaths, stepping stones, troughs and other items for the garden.

This will be a trough, probably planted with succulents since it is shallow.  It is large enough that I set the plastic bucket inside to support the long walls as they dry.

This will be a trough, probably planted with succulents since it is shallow. It is large enough that I set the plastic bucket inside to support the long walls as they dry.

Over these past few weeks I’ve experimented with different ways to cast  and embellish garden accoutrement.  The same much loved friend who went with me to purchase the bulk of the materials has returned to help mix and shape some of the batches.

Each piece sets up for 36 to 48 hours before it is turned out of its mold.  Then the pieces continue to dry and cure for several more weeks before coming into service in the garden.

A sand cast hypertufa pot, inlaid with glass scallop shells.  The corks in the bottom are to hold the drainage holes open while the cement hardens.

A sand cast hypertufa pot, inlaid with glass scallop shells. The corks in the bottom are to hold the drainage holes open while the cement hardens.

This beautiful trough is from the very first batch I mixed up in March.  It is hard, lightweight, and many shades lighter in color than the dark graphite grey of the wet hypertufa mix from which it is formed.  Cast on March 24, this piece has had a little more than three weeks of time to cure.

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The drainage holes were made with wine corks.   The glass shells were pressed into the wet  hypertufa when it was cast.  There are bits of blue and green glass pressed into the sides which don’t show as much as I had hoped.  I’ve since learned to cast pieces like this in sand so that the glass is visible.

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I made this very shallow trough to hold succulents.  I took cuttings from my succulents in October to decorate pumpkins, and had several cuttings left over which have overwintered in the garage.  I made this to hold them, along with freshly taken cuttings from other  overwintered succulents, which need cutting back.

These are such large drainage holes that I covered them with mesh fabric, and then with handfuls of pea gravel.  Then I filled the container with a good quality potting mix.  Since this container is very shallow, I didn’t mix sand into the soil.  I want it to to be a little moisture retentive while  this trough gets baked in our summer heat.

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Next the cuttings were set into the soil , keeping in mind they all will grow much larger.  It always amazes me how bits of succulent will survive for months out of soil, often drawing moisture directly out of the air.  Many of these pieces simply sat in a plastic bowl for more than 5 months, before I re-planted them today.

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So here is our first hypertufa trough, planted up with cuttings, and ready for action in the garden this season.  

A light mulch of pea gravel keeps the plants clean, reflects light to help them dry faster after a rain, and protects their roots.

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I’m still making a few batches each week.  In fact, I mixed up two batches of the hypertufa mix this morning and cast three large planters from them.

Some pieces will find homes in our garden, but others are made for sale at an event next month.  I’ll be planting most with a mixture of Caladiums and hardy ferns to live in partial shade.  Some will be planted with edible herbs to live in the sun.

I will be offering about a dozen of these hypertufa planters for sale in mid-May.

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As these beautiful pieces come out of the basement and into use I’ll show them to you from time to time.  My partner has been infinitely patient with the huge mess I’ve made, the hours spent “playing in the mud,” and my very achy back, sore from all of the lifting; but it has been a very rewarding experiment.  We’re both pleased with the resulting containers and stepping stones.

And yes, my friend already has a stepping stone we made together in her beautiful garden.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Recycling A Broken Mug

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A moment of clumsiness this morning with the tea kettle, and one of my favorite mugs lay broken in the sink.  November 7 2013 001We purchased two matching mugs from the potter in Manteo, NC, quite a few years ago.  This deep burgundy glaze is a bit unusual and hard to find, and we always enjoyed using these lovely mugs.  Too beautiful to throw away, I salvaged all but one of the pieces of the broken mug and took them back to my work table.

If it is no longer good for drinking, at least it will serve as a lovely planter.

The Echeveria I trimmed for cuttings.

The Echeveria I trimmed for cuttings.

Succulents are very forgiving plants, easy to grow, undemanding, and will survive in this little mug.  I took cuttings of a rangy blue chalk sticks plant, Kleinia mandraliscae,  and of some Echeveria growing in pots on the front porch.  I had a few sprigs of jade plant, Crassula ovata, already lying around, waiting for a new home.  Succulents appreciate bright, indirect light, but don’t need or want very much water.  They root easily from bits and pieces, and grow fairly slowly.  This makes them excellent candidates for tiny arrangements in unusual containers.

The blue chalk stick plant, gift a few years ago from a friend, needs a trim.

The blue chalk stick plant, gift a few years ago from a friend, needs a trim.

After gluing the mug back together and allowing it to dry, I laid a foundation of several small stones in the bottom of the cup and covered them with a mixture of sand and gravel.  Since the mug has no drainage holes, the rocks and sand will provide a small reservoir, below the roots, where water can drain.  It will also allow the soil to soak in water as needed between waterings.

Next came potting soil. I could have mixed in a bit of sand, but I have better luck with using the same potting mix I use for pots and baskets.  I filled the mug to within 1/4 or so of the rim, and topped off the soil with more clean sand and gravel.  This will prevent the succulent leaves from resting directly on damp soil.

Once the mug was prepared, I simply stuck the stems of my cuttings into the soil in a pleasing arrangement, gave a light spritz of water from the sink sprayer to settle everything in, and set the mug where it will get bright light.

The cuttings will take a few weeks to root, but will grow happily in the mug all winter.  When they appear to be outgrowing the mug, in a year or so, they can be potted up to another container and more cuttings can take their place in the mug.  It has a new purpose in life, and will continue to be a treasured part of ours.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome

Thoughts on recycling:

We are not to throw away those things which can benefit our neighbor. Goods are called good because they can be used for good: they are instruments for good, in the hands of those who use them properly.November 7 2013 017

Clement of Alexandria

Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value.

R. Buckminster Fuller

The paradox of life lies exactly in this: its resources are finite, but it itself is endless. Such a contradictory state of affairs is feasible only because the resources accessible to life can be used over and over again.” November 7 2013 018

I.I. Gitelson, Manmade Closed Ecological Systems

Tuesday Snapshots

We heard this morning on the Weather Channel that the official definition of Indian Summer is the first 70 degree day after the first frost.  Today is officially “Indian Summer” in Williamsburg. 

A beautifully clear sunny day, we marveled at how quickly the morning warmed up.  We both had a burst of energy and found tasks large and small to do outside.  The potted Norfolk Island Pine went back out in a protected spot.  I sowed parsley seeds in the Viola pots and washed the leaves of all the orchids.  A friend stopped by with a gift of cuttings from the Camellia by her front porch.

We are expecting temperatures in the 80s by the weekend; frosty mornings indefinitely delayed .

So here are a few snapshots from the garden this last week of October.  I’ve cropped them tightly to show you a glimpse of color and form, light and shadow, growth and decay, beginnings and endings in our forest garden.

Beauty of Foliage

Caladium and Begonia

Caladium and Begonia

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Consider how beautiful foliage can be;  whether the brightly veined leaves of a Caladium, the dark ruffled leaves of Anglewing Begonia, or the velvety leaves of Coleus.

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Coleus

Coleus

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All of the these plants produce flowers, but the flowers aren’t the main event.  These plants produce bright, beautiful stems and leaves month after month.

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Colocasia, “Blue Hawaii”

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Many people head to the garden center looking for flowers to plant in their gardens.  This is fine, but flowers are only a tiny aspect of what makes a garden beautiful.

Flowers open and fade- sometimes very quickly.  Many flowers last only a day.  Many perennials flower for a week or so, and then are finished until “same time, next year.”

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Angelwing Begonia leaves, larger than my hand.

Angelwing Begonia , whose leaves grow  larger than my hand

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Although perennial  flowers are often followed by interesting seedpods, somehow it isn’t the same.  Annuals give a longer season of bloom, but again are unreliable.  Many of the geraniums I planted with great hope in spring are a brown soggy mess at the moment, barely hanging on to life, because we’ve had too much rain.  They may come back in fall, or they may give up for the season.

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The flowering Verbena is only a foil for the beautiful lime green foliage in this planter, a gift from a master gardener friend.

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Foliage plants are far more reliable.  Even tender perennials like Caladium can be brought inside for the winter.  Although they will go dormant for a few months, they will come back with fresh leaves to amaze you.

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A few years ago I left some Caladium tubers buried in a pot of other plants I’d brought into the living room for the winter.  Somehow, the Caladiums woke up and shot up bright new leaves right after New Years Day.   We enjoyed them until spring.

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Caladiums

Caladiums

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They took another rest when the pot went back outside in May, and then came back for the end of summer and fall.  Caladiums are tough and have a strong will to live.  As long as you don’t let them freeze, they are very forgiving.

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Fern, hosta, purple Oxalis

Fern, Hosta, purple Oxalis, and a Hydrangea

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Coleus have been hybridized again and again to create amazing colors and strange leaf shapes.  Many are textured, deeply ruffled or fishboned,  striped, blotched, or shaded.  No two leaves, even on the same plant, are quite alike.

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Coleus and Creeping Jenny

Coleus and Creeping Jenny

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Coleus are tough plants who prefer shade, but have been selected to tolerate sun.  The newer hybrids give much better colors in sunlight.

Their flowers are insignificant, and many of us snap them off when they appear to keep the plant branching and producing more beautiful leaves.  We have noticed that when Coleus flowers are allowed to open, they attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

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A favorite tender lady fern, living inside with us this winter.

A favorite tender lady fern, living inside with us this winter.

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Ferns, which never flower, are another wonderful foliage plant.

Ferns come in many sizes, forms, and colors.  They uniformly prefer shade, but will thrive in partial sunlight.  All prefer to be moist, but can live in varying degrees of dry soil.

In general, the more light ferns ge, the more moisture they will need to stay hydrated.

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Fern with Creeping Jenny.  Both plants are winter hardy.

Autumn fern with creeping Jenny. Both plants are winter hardy.

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Whether used as a filler, or as the main attraction, ferns are tough, reliable, and beautiful.  There are many hardy perennial ferns which will return year after year.

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Succulents are also grown for their foliage, although they produce small flowers once or twice a year.

These plants prefer bright light, warm temperatures, and like their soil on the dry side.  They can go a fairly long time between waterings.

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Most succulents won’t survive  freezing temperatures, and so need to come inside for winter here in Zone 7b.  In warmer climates, they put on a beautiful display year round, growing bigger and bigger as they form colonies.

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In many cases, succulents look like flowers because they form rosettes in shades of blue, green, burgundy, and gold.

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succulents

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If you are looking for fresh design ideas for your pots and gardens, try designing with foliage.   Watch for interesting colors, textures, patterns, and forms in the plants you choose.  Select plants which will look fresh and healthy over a long season.

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Many of the plants in these photos will survive from one year to the next indoors.  They keep getting better with age, and are always interesting plants we want to  include in our garden.

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 Photos by Woodland Gnome

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